A tailor’s mastery cuts his tribe’s mendicancy to pieces in Kashmir

Muzafar has become an inspiration for his tribe. [FPK Photo/Umar Farooq.]

Lack of social support often forces differently-abled persons to beg for living on streets as seen in the holy month of Ramazan, but one man is fighting for change with his empowering skill.

It’s a room full of talkative women gawking at Muzaffar Ahmad’s effortless cutting style. The tailor’s treatment is the talk of the town drawing a feverish footfall of homemakers and young girls for gowns. They swarm the man’s shop with colourful suits despite his childhood condition making him a ‘disabled dressmaker’.

A native of Shalgam village in district Anantnag, Muzaffar is a polio-affected tailor. Given his condition, it’s an everyday slog for him to reach his workplace frequented by oldies and freeloaders for some pep talks and cultural commentary. 

The tailor’s shop. [FPK Photo/Umar Farooq.]

Muzaffar as a child received great support from his father before the headman’s bankruptcy created an existential crisis for this specially-abled person whose tribe is forced to follow a pauper’s path in the valley. Being sensitive to his family needs, the young boy decided to empower himself with skills rather than taking the street course.

The boy found a mentor and went to village Takibal to learn tailoring. A year later, he started his own cutting and sewing shop in his hometown. 

“In our society,” says Muzaffar, as myriad eyes marvel at his mastery, “people with disabilities are treated inhumanely, and even rejected by their families. I realised it quite early and decided to learn tailoring, as I didn’t want to be a burden on my family.” 

The young boy’s spirit was supported by his grandfather who used to carry him on his back during his apprenticeship period. The elder’s backing came amid the family gloom created by his father’s troubled trade. 

“My grandfather encouraged me to be financially independent,” Muzaffar recalls the encouraging words that changed his mindset. “Life can pose a difficult situation for you, he would tell me, but you’ve to be ready to deal with any eventuality.”

Muzafar’s mastery makes him a popular tailor in his town. [FPK Photo/Umar Farooq.]

Soon after starting his own venture, his scoffers became his supporters. He won their confidence with work, he says. “My work became my identity.” 

Today, Muzaffar receives an array of orders from his native as well as neighbouring village. Many bags in his shop manifest his workflow. A ticking wall clock makes him mindful about the timely delivery of orders. 

“Starting my own shop has given me a sense of ease in life,” the tailor continues. “In fact, being independent makes me forget all the sufferings.” 

With his earnings, Muzaffar takes care of his family including his old parents and a young sister. He has also played a part in his elder sister’s marriage. 

But despite keeping his family together, Muzaffar believes that a differently-abled person still faces a lot of issues in Kashmiri society. The disparity exists even as the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 clearly empowers his tribe. He endlessly talks about facing rejections, injustices and hostilities. 

Amid all the depravity dusting his dreams and desires, the affable tailor still pines for hangouts and swimming sessions, his wishful teenage thinking. “But unlike others,” he says, “my tribe can’t move, socialize and make beautiful relationships. It makes us feel useless and exhausted.” 

To fight this feeling of helplessness, Muzaffar in 2019 bought a two-wheeler with his savings. “It was the best day of my life,” he recalls with a beaming face. “The ride has empowered me even further.” 

Muzafar shelled out his saving to buy himself a scooty. [FPK Photo/Umar Farooq.]

But that year, as the Government of India unilaterally abrogated semiautonomous status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the tailor’s ride came to a grinding halt in political lockdown. Barring that protracted period of situational paralysis, Muzaffar’s trysts with volatile situations have always tested him. 

“I remember a day, some years back, when everyone around me closed their shops and fled the scene amid firing,” he recalls. “I was screaming for help. Nobody came to my rescue until a noble man turned up and took me to his home. In the ensuing crackdown, I cried a lot. That nightmarish episode only escalated my helplessness as a differently-abled person.”

The vagaries of vale’s weather equally numb his body and slow him down. “But then,” he says, “I can’t sit home and do nothing about it. I need to come out to fight for my identity.”

The hanging work. [FPK Photo/Umar Farooq.]

Muzaffar’s journey clearly shows his spine and spirit for life. Disability should never be someone’s weakness, he reckons. “It shouldn’t become a barrier in achieving one’s goals.” 

Even though many differently-abled persons resort to begging for survival in Kashmir, people like Muzaffar is leading by a change. 

“It’s better to earn less with dignity than hitting streets with a begging bowl,” the tailor says as he wraps up his cutting session. “A person should find ways until reaching his destination.”

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